Mom Guilt: The Struggle is Real

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"Mom guilt" by Jeannie Ewing (CatholicMom.com)

Image via Unsplash; CC0 Public Domain. Text added by author.

I mulled over the index card as my friend handed it to me. It was a mutual friend’s baby shower – much anticipated and long-awaited. She and her husband had lost several babies to miscarriage, so it was an especially joyful occasion. Except I couldn’t quite answer the question posed on the card: “What is your advice for the parents-to-be?”

Years before, at my own shower, moms of every generation – seasoned women married decades with grown children, young moms with large broods of kids in grade school, first-time moms with infants – offered me their own pearls of wisdom: breastfeed for at least a year, because formula is an unhealthy option; have a bassinet in your bedroom so that you can respond immediately to your baby’s cries; don’t leave your baby alone with anyone until she is at least three months old; and so on. I relished those words, and took them to heart.

Shortly after our first daughter, Felicity, was born, I realized that motherhood was no joke. I could barely keep up with constant feedings during those months of sleeplessness that dragged on for what seemed like eternity. I cried as I blamed myself for all sorts of inadequacies: not breastfeeding her longer; not co-sleeping at night; wanting (needing) a break from her every day when my husband came home.

The list was interminable, and I internalized the gnawing feeling of guilt about my new vocation as a mom of this tiny human being. But it wasn’t until that day at the baby shower, when I was pregnant with our third baby and I was discerning what to say to my friend who was only embarking on her journey, that I decided mothers don’t need advice. They need support.

Recalling the years of guilt when societal messages told me I wasn’t getting motherhood “right” led me to a compassionate, but simple response: “Every child is different, and so are you as a mom. God gave you this gift so that you could learn from each other. No manual or guidebook will give you all the answers. Sometimes you have to just pray, trust, and follow your gut.”

Then Veronica, our third daughter, came along. I toted her to mom’s groups and coffee gatherings after Mass, where – to my surprise – a lot of other moms opened up to me about their own feelings of inadequacy, which led me to ponder the why behind it all.

Why do we berate and belittle each other, at least silently, when everyone’s parenting styles and personalities are so different? Why do mothers of all calibers – working moms who use daycare; homeschooling moms who shun even private schools; single moms and military moms; moms of one child and mothers of several – constantly compare and contrast? Our very identities as mothers seem to be contingent upon how other moms, those “super moms” seem to do it all – and then some.

At one point in my naivete, I thought I knew all the “right” things I was supposed to do as a mother. I read all the books. I had taken child development in undergraduate psychology courses. But having two daughters with unique special needs has greatly humbled me. There are no books, no rules, no guidelines on how each of them will develop certain skills or reach particular milestones. Even having one seemingly typical baby has taught me that every single human being is beautifully complex.

I’ve determined, therefore, that motherhood relies heavily on God’s grace and not so much on how-to books, blogs, and conversations. When I’m privy to those discussions among other moms, I try to encourage rather than judge. There’s no room for judgment when we’re all wondering the same thing: whether or not we got any of it right.

What keeps all afloat when motherhood seems more like a battle than a blessing? Handing over, each day, our victories and mistakes to God with the simple prayer, “Lord, please make up for all I lack.” Because the reality is that He does, in fact, compensate for our mistakes. We just have to keep moving forward each new day and surrender our failures at the end of each day.


Copyright 2018 Jeannie Ewing

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About Author

Jeannie Ewing believes the world ignores and rejects the value of the Cross. She writes about the hidden value of suffering and even discovering joy in the midst of grief. As a disability advocate, Jeannie shares her heart as a mom of two girls with special needs in Navigating Deep Waters and is the author of From Grief to Grace , A Sea Without A Shore , and Waiting with Purpose. Jeannie is a frequent guest on Catholic radio and contributes to several online and print Catholic magazines. She, her husband, and three daughters live in northern Indiana. For more information, please visit her website lovealonecreates.com.

5 Comments

  1. So true. I feel that this is good advice for every point in life. I am the DRE at a parish where there was a lot more finger pointing and judgement going on than mercy and forgiveness that Jesus taught us. I recently visited a hispanic family that just started back to church. They live in a two bedroom house with 5 children. I was amazed at the lack of pictures on the wall or decorations of any kind on the walls. Before i was DRE, they tried to come back into the church and got talked down to and ridiculed for their lack of church attendance. What i found out is that the mother cannot read and the father is very strict and controlling. The mother goes to mass when he is out of town. The children are now in their teens and the older sister argued for their abilities to go to church and receive their sacraments. Her father told her that it is her responsibility to make sure they get to and from church. They walk twice a week. Their mother is very sweet and all the kids are very good and respectful. I am saddened that the judgental DRE before me was unable to look past the attendance issues to learn more about this family and help them find their way to Jesus. That is our job as a church after all.

  2. This is a very sad story. I very much dislike how Latino women get treated by their spouse.
    I am a Latino woman, born and raised in Colombia, S. A. until the age of 11. My parents brought my siblings and I here back in 1980. I was told by my older siblings that my father mistreated our mother pretty bad, and them too. I am # 19 in a family of 20. And I am super proud of it.

    I am a mother of two beautiful children who are 23 going on 24 my son and my daughter whose 22 going on 23. They are my two Miracles. And I say that because, I started suffering from seizures at the age of 16 and was taking Phenobarbital while my son was in my womb. And took Dylantin with my daughter.

    My ex-husband tried to do that. And I plainly did not allow it. He made me feel like he was the Sergeant and I was the Private. Since he saw that there could not be two Sergeants at home. He decided to leave. I was left alone with a 17 month old boy and a three month old baby girl. It was tough, but I was able to go ahead in life with God’s help, our Mother, the Virgin Mary, my Beautiful Mother, may her soul rest in peace. And my siblings. They were all very supportive.
    My advise to all women. ” Don’t allow any man put you down ” We are God’s Precious Jewels.
    Stop that violence.

    Against Violence

    • Against Violence on

      I’m sorry, I said I’m proud of belonging to a big family. I am not proud about what my father did to my mom 🙁

  3. Jeannie,

    This was absolutely beautiful! I love that prayer you offered too. I think we berate and belittle and judge in a desperate attempt to feel like we have things under control. I know I do not – that prayer will become ingrained in my life for sure! Thank you for your encouragement and reflections!

  4. Thanks for your beautiful words, we all need to remember to give other mom’s grace and especially ourselves. Thanks for the encouragement.

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